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Comfort Zones of Grief

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

Grief invites us to become explorers of comfort zones. Have you ever moved to a new city? The perimeter of familiarity expands as you begin to explore the area. Street by street you begin to venture out, learning boundaries and landmarks, getting lost and finding your way home. Our comfort zones in grief are like that. As you begin to learn about your grief you begin to expand out a little more each time and retreat back to the familiar when you’ve reached your limit.

I would like to talk about three comfort zones in grief. Let’s start with the Comfort of Home, zone 1. This zone is your safe place. This comfort zone provides the highest level of comfort. You feel safe to express your feelings and be with your grief. Within this zone there may be smaller zones of comfort. For example, after my twin boys were stillborn, even though my home and family were my comfort zone, not every room nor every family member provided comfort. I could not bring myself to go into my bedroom because the crib was there. Even though my parents were very supportive, they were not included in my Comfort of Home zone. Eventually, I expanded my zone to include my entire family and once the baby furniture was dismantled and put in storage, the whole house became my safe space.

As in a new city, you eventually begin to explore outside your home. The second comfort zone is what I call the Zone of Familiarity. In this zone you begin to explore those things that are familiar to you but the difference is, now you are experiencing them with grief in your life. Expansion into this comfort zone is somewhat of a natural exploration. You begin to feel the need to go outside of yourself and immediate family. People and places in the Zone of Familiarity might include extended family, work friends, church, workplace, a coffee date with a friend, a walk with your neighbor or a yoga class. The common element of this zone is that it is familiar, you know what to expect and you have some control over the exploration. The difference is the fact that you are now experiencing the familiar, with grief in your life. Let me continue with my own example. My daughters and I loved to visit the library. I lived in a small town and the librarians were friends and they loved to see the girls check out bags of books. My first trip out, I figured the library was a safe place to go, it was familiar. The librarians knew my story, they smiled as we entered through the door. We picked out our books, checked them out and put them in our bags. The atmosphere was calm, the girls were happy and I returned home expressing a huge sigh of relief; I did it!

Another example of the Zone of Familiarity is Bonnie, a friend of mine whose husband had died. Eventually she had to return to work. Work was a Zone of Familiarity for her. She had friends there. Her coworkers knew her story and wanted to be supportive of her and sensitive to her needs. She didn’t have the luxury of staying home from work when she was having a hard day. She went to work, feeling as though she really needed to be home attending to her grief. She went to work and affectionately called it a “Larry Day”. When a work friend asked how she was doing she replied, “Oh, I’m having a Larry Day”. Her friends knew this was her way of telling them she was having a hard day. They respected her space and supported her by letting her grieve instead of trying to change her. She had devised a plan that allowed her to retreat into the Comfort of Home while physically being in the Zone of Familiarity. Each day was different even though it was familiar.

Comfort Zone Three is the Public Zone. This zone can be the most intimidating, frustrating and daunting. The Public Zone is comprised of public places and public events. Like I stated earlier, at the time of the stillbirth of my sons, I lived in a small town. My Public Zone was almost a Zone of Familiarity. However, my small town was 20 miles away from a larger city. I knew the autonomy of a Public Zone in a city. For me the city Public Zone was far less complicated to explore. I didn’t know people, they didn’t know me, we conducted our business. I shopped and I went home. The tricky part about navigating this Public Zone is that people don’t know that you are grieving nor do they care. I was not prepared to feel so insignificant. My world had shattered and the people in the Public Zone didn’t even care. This may be a comfort; you are able to blend in or it can be hurtful because the pain of grief is deep and you feel the world should stop and grieve with you. Don’t be surprised if it is both, depending on the day and how you are feeling.

The other Public Zone is one made up of those events and places where large number of people gather. For example, a graduation, a wedding, a ballgame or a concert. It is that public space where you will know some people and some people will be strangers. Some may know your story and some may not. This Public Zone is an environment of uncomfortable circumstances. The unknown, uncontrollable and unbelievable happens here. When you are exploring the Public Zone, you will encounter at least three different scenarios. People will offer condolences and want to talk about the person who died and give you unsolicited advice or 2) they will not acknowledge the death or your grief and instead talk about the weather or 3) you will be ignored altogether because they are uncomfortable and have no clue what to say or do so they choose to ignore you. Needless to say, anything can happen when you are in the Public Zone. It is here where you will need to develop your sense of boundaries and listen to your inner voice. You will more than likely experience multiple feelings at once. The overwhelm may become strong and you will need to retreat back to the Comfort of Home and be with your grief. You will gain confidence in the Public Zone as you become familiar with your grief and the feelings you experience.

Exploring Comfort Zones is definitely a process. Each day will be different. Circumstances change. It is in the exploration where you will find your Comfort Zone. You will expand into one area only to retreat back for some time. Then expand out a little more. You are stretching your boundaries. You are exploring your new territory. The terrain has changed, you are living your life with grief in the middle of it. Be kind and gentle with yourself. It’s okay to stay in the Comfort of Home zone, but don’t be afraid to expand little bit by little bit into the Zone of Familiarity and the Public Zone, remembering that the Comfort of Home is always close.


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